Reviewing your own writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers. Here are strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your own written work.

When you write, it can be easy to get caught up in the craft of wordplay and storytelling, colorful metaphors, and powerful images — and it can feel wonderful when that intensely focused creativity gains momentum.

But what happens when your narrative is sculpted or your draft complete? How do you step back, break away from the craftsperson point of view, and freshly evaluate your writing? Reviewing your own writing from an editor’s perspective can be a challenge, even for experienced writers, but there are ways to make the job easier. Here are just a few strategies that can help you bring fresh eyes to your own written work.

Switch to a different activity

“No matter what I’m working on, whether it’s creative writing or editorial, hitting a block happens,” says Southern California-based writer and editor Katie Kailus. “Stepping away for a bit, focusing on something else and then coming back and refocusing usually provides me with the clear mind and fresh eyes I need to continue.”

For Kailus, that “something else” could be a variety of activities — doing laundry, running an errand, or taking a stroll to the beach, for example. In your own creative and editorial process, experiment and see what non-writing activities give you the clear headspace you need to return to your work with fresh eyes.

Read something unrelated

If I start to feel spent on a writing project, I often pull up online newspapers and catch up on headlines. Reading whatever’s new on Humans of New York, Facebook, and Twitter can also provide a mental change of pace. Reading something unrelated to my own writing takes my head out of the subject matter and helps me look at everything with a clearer perspective when I return to it.

Use a different typeface

Years ago, I discovered that reading my own work in Arial made me see things differently than when I used Monaco or Andale. In fact, I was surprised by just how different my writing seemed when represented by even a moderately different font. When it comes time to review your own work, see if cycling through typefaces can help you get fresh eyes on what you’re trying to write.

“When I’m really stumped, printing out a copy of what I’m writing and reading and editing it on paper can oftentimes generate a completely different result than when I’m reading on screen,” Kailus says.

Use a different device

Reading your own work on your phone vs. your tablet vs. your laptop vs. the printed page may enable you to see new things in each context. For me, reading an article draft on my iPhone lets me more easily imagine myself as the final reader of the published article, rather than the person writing it, and evaluate and edit the piece accordingly.

Relocate

Sometimes the buzz and bustle of a coffee shop is just what I need to see my work with fresh eyes. Other times, the peace of a park bench is better. Changing your physical location can often give you the editorial distance you need to evaluate your work freshly, and as a whole.

Eat and drink

When I get deep into writing, I can lose track of time and push back eating and drinking for longer than I should. When I feel that a fresh perspective on my work is needed, I’ll often force myself to break away from the text, even if I’m on a roll, eat and drink, and then return with fresh energy. It’s enticing to ride a creative wave and power through for as long as possible, but when it comes time to engage with text from a fresh perspective, a nutritional break can make a big difference.

Change your (physical) point of view

I’ve interviewed a number of writers who find that their physical position – sitting, standing, walking – changes the way they interact with their words. I’ve found this to be true myself. If I’m at a point where a fresh look at my own work is helpful, a change in elevation may be all that’s needed.

Listen to music

There’s nothing like a little Mozart, metal, or Motown to break you out of a writing rut — especially if that music contains rhythms and language that are notably different than the text you’re crafting. By engaging your brain in a different way, music can help you reset and see your work with a beginner’s mind again.

Sleep on it

An editor of mine once told me that, after completing his final draft of any piece, he always waits to send it off or publish it until the next morning. He reviews it again, first thing, with coffee and fresh eyes, to see if any further changes need to be made. While I don’t do this with everything I write, it’s been a helpful tactic when I’ve needed it.

Read it out loud

Reading my text out loud to myself makes me see things in new ways — and having a friendly collaborator read it to me can be equally revealing. You never know what words or phrases your reading partner may choose to emphasize, or how that person’s recitation might make you see facets of your work you had never noticed.

Mix it up

The more challenging the piece of writing, the more times I’ll review it, and the more disparate tactics I’ll use to give myself a fresh look at it. Often, I won’t feel like a piece of writing is truly the best it can be until I’ve returned to it multiple times with fresh eyes and reviewed it in multiple different contexts.

How do you approach reviewing your own work with fresh eyes? Tell us in the comments below.

 

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Michael Gallant

About Michael Gallant

Michael Gallant has written 8 posts in this blog.

Michael Gallant is a writer, musician, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He lives in New York City. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant.

48 thoughts on “How To Read, Edit, and Evaluate Your Writing With Fresh Eyes

  1. Reading aloud is a huge one for me. It’s helped me catch a lot of awkward sentences that previously seemed fine.
    I’ll definitely try the typeface angle. Good stuff!

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks! Yeah, isn’t it funny how something can sound completely different coming out of your mouth than you expected it to?

      1. Larry Miller says:

        I’m a designer. What works for design works also for writing. Get it done. First draft or 100 rough sketches fast fast fast let it run.Then shove into a drawer (for metaphorical drawer) and don’t look at it till next day or better the day after that On design, the crap will be ovoious and the potentially good if there is any will also stand ut For writing, maybe the same on a shorter time horizon if necessary. Also, always fo what I am not nooks doing, always never let autocorrect correct mistyped words anas that vn really much things up. As you see. —Using a professional proofreader on projects that requite that is the best way.

    2. Linda S Rice says:

      I agree that reading out loud is one of the best ways to evaluate your work. I try to get two friends to listen while I read out loud and I can get their opinion at the same time I find things that need fixing.

  2. athletegai says:

    Thanks so much for the post.Really thank you! Keep writing.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  3. Good tips! I especially like reading aloud, printing the pages, changing fonts, take a break of any sort and I also employ my associates (my teenaged son or my wife) to read to me–they’re not big fans of the process, but they love me. I’ve used the “read aloud” app on my computer, as well, but it’s not quite the same.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Great, I’m glad to hear that strategies like these are working for you. I’ve never tried having my computer read my work aloud myself, but it certainly sounds like an interesting experience….. Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Henry Orn says:

    Reading a piece in the same genre gives me fresh look at how to phrase my ideas, sentences and the entire story.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Good idea – I’ll give it a try.

  5. Diane Seufert Tait says:

    I print it out. Things pop out for me on a hard copy.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Same here.

    2. Bev Kossum says:

      Agreed – for some reason all looks different on the page than on the screen.
      I also like reading out loud, but the cats take issue with that…

  6. For proofing, try reading backwards. Takes concentration and you’ll likely focus on each word more.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Sounds like literary bench pressing. I’ll give it a try!

    2. Nicole says:

      Lesley, I needed this advice. Thanks!

    3. Nicolas Ardanaz says:

      I tried reading backwards. I fell and broke my writing hand! Just kidding. I’ll try your suggestion. Thanks
      Nicolas

  7. Great article! Similar to changing fonts, I find it extremely helpful to set my stories or novel manuscripts into a book mock up, 6×9 format, a font and layout as you’d read in a finished book. I find lots of issues with narrative flow and dialogue, scene length, transitions, etc. that I can correct when my manuscript is set up like a finished book.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      This is a really good idea – thanks for sharing.

  8. David Soubly says:

    Agree! Reading aloud for dialogue is an absolute must. Also, get a hold of Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” Despite the subtitle suggesting its utility for writing nonfiction, it’s a gem when it comes to tightening prose in your stories.

    With a longer, more complex fiction work, where you intend for your reader to make discoveries, you may be trapped by what you already know vs. what your reader does. That can be tough to catch, unless you walk away (literally) for several days and then come back to the piece.

    I find paper editing is a must. I revise first on screen – especially when creating dialogue – then do a heavy paper edit a chapter or two at a time, then a lighter pass, and also a look to see if the back end of the work “fits” the front. Paper lets you physically go somewhere completely different to get a fresh look at things.

    It also helps to have a couple of trusted readers who will provide that outside view.

    Thanks for a terrific piece.

    1. Pauline Duncan-Thrasher says:

      When writing speeches I do speak the words aloud and often do heavy editing because the “sound” is so significant.
      Although my focus has been on non fiction writing and poetry I love David Soubly’s idea about doing a heavy paper edit and agree that moving from screen to paper gives a quite different perspective. To hone certain phrases I will walk outside or sit beside a tree along the pattern of Katie Kailus . Something about being outside helps the flow of phrases.

  9. Barbara J says:

    Great strategies for self editing!
    I will began using many of them immediately.
    Thanks for sharing them.

  10. Having my computer’s text-to-voice app read the story to me is a huge help. When reading it myself, I change the font style and bump the size up to 16 and change the background to red. This stops my brain from going on auto pilot and I catch the little errors (like in for on, or from instead of for).
    Thanks for the tips!

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for the response! Interesting tips – I’ve never played with color or font size before, but I’ll definitely experiment. I have changed from, say, single spacing to 1.5 or double to try to achieve the same result though, and that’s worked for me. I look forward to giving your ideas a try…..

  11. Great article and comments. Thank you.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words!

  12. Lynne Spreen says:

    I upload it to my Kindle. Seeing it look like a book in my hand really gives me perspective.

  13. aliciaminor says:

    There are always new words, thoughts and approach that comes each moment of revision, something that sounds and reads better. The first draft lets you in the door of a better and well revised story. I let it sit and simmer for a while and if still I’m not satisfied, I pass it on to others for a set of fresh eyes. Revision is like a journey. The road is bumpy but one way or another you’ll get to your destination.

  14. Mike Vreeland says:

    Having spent many years as a middle school ELA teacher, I imagine reading my story or poem aloud to a class of my students. I can get a sense of what will engage them and what will be confusing or boring. They are tough critics! I also use the sleep on it before sending it suggestion. I always find some little bit I want to improve/correct. I’ll have to try some of the others.

  15. As a graphic designer, I rely so heavily on my own printer to proof everything. Even if the work is going to be online, still, I print it to proof it. As an author, I still rely on printing what I’ve written on 8 1/2 x 11″ paper and taking it to another room to read. I feels like I don’t really see it on the screen after awhile but on paper, in a different environment, it’s like seeing it with brand new eyes. Every time.

  16. RODGER BOLLES says:

    Paste the script into text in an e-mail. Check it with Grammerly for a quickie edit and send the message to yourself.

    1. Michael Gallant says:

      I paste my text in email as well – there’s something about reading it in that context that makes you see it differently. Thanks for reading and posting.

  17. Amanda Stone says:

    Useful suggestions here. I almost always “sleep on it”. My imagination often works better late at night, but sometimes too much as it gets a bit weird and exaggerated as well as tired and emotional. Posting anything after 11pm really is risky for me! (nearly there now!)

    I don’t do “read it aloud”, but will definitely try to build it into my editing routine now as I know it will highlight repetition and anything odd-sounding.

  18. Barry Begault says:

    Load it to a Kindle and let the kindle app read it back

  19. Lots of good suggestions and food for thought here.

    Reading aloud works well for me, as does switching from a “screen” edit (reading and scrolling through one more time) to a printed out hard copy — what jumps out on one doesn’t always jump out in the other medium, and vice versa.

    If time allows, or I’m juggling multiple projects, I’ll take a day or two off and come back to whatever I’m working on then. That way, your brain gets to rest, and you can come back with a different perspective. I catch a lot of stuff that way.

  20. Join a writers group for mutual criticism. I moderate a Nonfiction group within Cape Cod Writers Center, and whenever the group is small enough, we read each others’ chapters aloud, exposing flaws in the flow, and words or phrases that mislead or baffle readers. But we also exchange chapters by email a week or so ahead, so that each member can do some concentrated editing of all the others’ work, at both the developmental and copy levels. When the group is too big for that, we just have a group discussion on the accumulated edits. Either way, we give marked-up hard copies (or sometimes Track-Changes files) to the author after the discussion–that allows the author to participate in the discussion rather than always feeling pressured to take notes. We each learn a lot about editing and its point of view, and we benefit from having a bunch of free editors. “We’re here to help each other succeed.”

  21. Lots of good food for thought here. Reading aloud works for me, as does switching from reviewing the “screen” (i.e., computer) version, versus an actual hard copy printout — items that don’t jump out in one medium jump out in another, and vice versa.

    If time allows, I also like to take a day or two off in between, which gives the brain a chance to refresh, and re-engage, since you often get to a point where your eyes glaze over, and therefore, boosting the chance that you’ll miss something crucial..Good post.

  22. Eileen Clifford says:

    Lots of interesting info here. I belong to the ‘print it out, leave it awhile before revisiting, and read aloud’ schools. All have helped me at different times, and remain very useful to date. Thanks for an interesting and helpful read.

  23. Nicolas Ardanaz says:

    Thank you for all the practical ideas. Will try them for sure.
    Nicolas Ardanaz, author of HOLY CREAM PUFF

  24. Great article with some very useful tips! I like to use the “read aloud” feature on Word which really helps me decide if I really like how a sentence is written.

  25. TATipton says:

    These ideas are superb, my good fellow. Keying into one’s learning style(s) has been a boost for me. Being tactile/kinesthetic often creates the need for pen and paper, permitting me to let the words dance.Yet, being verbal as well, recording my “writing” first can assist. Love the use of music; it keeps many voices and critics busy so I can write. How refreshing to read these comments! Écrivons!
    Timothy

  26. Love the font-switch idea. Long as you don’t end up with astrology symbols.

    Thanks for this piece. Editing discussions are SO much more interesting than writing discussions. Anyone can spew onto a page, but virtually no one does it brilliantly first crack. And the amount of work that should follow probably depends on one’s medium and genre, plus topicality and one’s own literary clock. Mine is s-l-o-w because I’m writing books.

    To maximize my output and to make up for sleeping manuscripts, I’m always working on several projects. My general process is 1) first draft longhand in a beautiful location in nature–pure writing for its own sake, no judge and jury (ocean waves, great soundtrack), 2) type up recent longhand pages, and simultaneously edit and polish, 3) continue like this until the book feels done, 4) leave it alone for a few months or longer, 5) developmental edit on computer—points for ruthlessness, 6) keep subtracting, adding, and proofing to satisfaction, 7) wait at least a few weeks, then print it out in 15 pt font, double-spaced so I can scribble on it, 8) read it like a book (in a big old chair or in my car by the sea), while slashing and burning anything sluggish, repetitive, self-conscious or too cool for school, 9) enter new changes into the computer copy, 10) put it back to bed for a year or two or three… 11) pull it out one day and see what the heck I’ve got. By now, I’m in a completely different part of my life, with new eyes and a new brain.

    #11 is fun because the slashing and burning have seriously tightened the manuscript, while the new additions have built up and enhanced the clarity, pace, and tone. In fact, a passage that may have once seemed like emotional drivel could now actually make me cry. (Crying is GOOD/keep that stuff.) (As is laughter.) Also, by now I’m older, wiser, and even more ruthless—plus the story’s no longer as precious since I have 4 other projects going—so I can hack my way through it one more time, making it finally what it needs to be! (Then it’s an editor’s turn.)

    My greatest tool is definitely time. But, again, I’m booking not blogging… Not everyone has the luxury of time or even the temperament for it. And some are better writers than me and don’t need it!

    P.S. For my book of short stories, as a semi-final edit, I narrated them into my phone’s recorder, then listened back while walking or stretching. Listening made it abundantly clear what needed changing. (Then I just added my comments to the end of the same recording.)

  27. stephen norton says:

    word programs include a read aloud capability in the View mode. I have used that with very positive results catching errors. While inflections are not handled well, I have found it very helpful

  28. Bob Romanoff says:

    My first volume of a planned series is 186,000 words plus. Taking a tip from Stephen King, I left the finished work alone for months and then used a software programme to read it aloud a number of times. I don’t now how many corrections I made but two proof readers in my family, had missed a lot!

  29. I totally agree that reading out loud is one of the best ways to evaluate your work. I try to get two friends to listen while I read out loud and I can get their opinion at the same time I find things that need fixing.

  30. Mike Thompson says:

    For me, reading aloud is absolutely necessary and I recently joined a writers’ group where some are not afraid to be as picky as I am. They point out where my spoken intonation and pacing are not clear on paper.

    One artificial technique is to change the line length substantially. If I’m writing with one-inch margins, after a few drafts I make them two-inchers or change to two columns. Or vice versa. If I also change the typeface or font size, it looks like a new story.

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